Thursday, 1 May 2014

Designing for Human Autonomy Workshop

26 of April - HCI researchers gathered for the first workshop on designing for human autonomy at the Computer Human Interaction Conference CHI2014 in Toronto.

We learned our first lesson long before the workshop began: many  submissions focused on design for computer autonomy rather than human autonomy, evidence of a persistent  focus on computer agency, but also a sign of the ambiguity and lack of shared understanding around the term autonomy which is what spawned the workshop in the first place.

We're pleased to report that the workshop was a great success...

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Positive computing systems in the workplace - OfficeVibe

We have seen a promising surge of new applications aiming to increase employee wellbeing. With the increase of applications I expect to see more evidence on what the design strategies are that work.

My team decided to try out officevibe, an app that integrates with Microsoft's Yammer, a social networking system for organisations.  OfficeVibe promises to engage employees in activities that make them healthier and happier - superb goals. Here's what we've learned so far...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Two views on Big Data

Big Data is here to stay, and like many others, I'm trying to make sense of its academic and social implications. In particular, how will big data contribute to our wellbeing?

I am reading two interesting, but widely different perspectives: On the one hand, there are computer scientists trying to get the most out of a new tool. Take for example, Alex Pentland who directs the Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT and his new book: "Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread- The lessons from a new science".  Pentland exudes confidence: "I live in the future... at the centre of the innovation universe". His book aims to "extend economic and political thinking by including not only political forces but exchanges of ideas, information, social pressure and social status".  He suggests we can explain the social world based on the "patterns of human experience" that we can develop from the traces people leave while using digital devices (call records, credit card expenses, GPS, etc).

Pentland points out that his vision of a "data-driven society implicitly assumes that the data will not be abused".  We know, however (from leaked documents and human history), that this is not something we can simply rely on; we cannot assume that any government or company will respect our rights or our privacy. But the Big discussion is not just about ethics, it's about what we can expect from Big Data methods.

Others such as danah boyd and Kate Crawford, social scientists at Microsoft (danah is also at Harvard and Kate at NYU and the University of New South Wales), have taken a more critical view.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Design for conflict resolution and empathy in Facebook

The overall process Facebook used for the project.
As discussed in a previous post, Social Media and Wellbeing - the Role of Design, the effects of social networking on wellbeing come in positive and negative forms and receive significant media attention.  We argue that a software environment as complex and multifaceted as a social media environment will always represent a complex web of positive and negative effects influenced by user characteristics, duration of use, and other use-case elements, and that it is the responsibility of designers and researchers to tease out wellbeing impact factors and work to design for the positive.

 Companies that take into account how their software can support wellbeing have an excellent business case for doing so: online communities in which people thrive attract more users and keep them engaged.  Facebook is among the largest companies that stands to benefit from designing systems that support positive social interaction, so it may not come as a surprise that since 2011 they have held an annual 'Compassion Research Day' (CRD) aimed at bringing together experts who can inform the way design of Facebook with the latest research on prosocial interaction.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Dump the quick fix & design for gradual change

 "Slow change boils down to sustaining improved qualities of life"  
So much work in Positive Computing involves behavior change, but significant change (to ourselves or societies) is a process that unfolds over time.  Quick fix approaches, shallow problem-solving, and "quick easy steps"--so appealing from a business perspective--fail to get us through the long haul.

In a recent article, "Slow Change Interaction Design" Matrin A. Siegel and Jordan Beck of Indiana University provide the groundwork for an ongoing theory and practice of design for slow change.  They define slow changes as "attitudinal and behavioural changes that are difficult to initiate and sustain" bringing to light ethical dilemmas, impacts of timescale, and the value of systems thinking inherent to slow change problems.  They also challenge the dominance of quantitative feedback, advocating for greater balance:
"It is misguided, in general, to prioritise numbers at the expense of experiential qualities with regard to slow change processes…The quality of an experience is what drives people toward or away from it". 
In my case, it certainly is the quality of the experience provided by the narrative approach of Zombies, Run! that allows me to sustain a jogging habit, far more so than the number or length of my runs.  But of course motivators will vary by individual, and will vary for each individual over time--another tenet honored by slow change interaction design theory:"Even wide-reaching tools or techniques have to be malleable for fine-tuning per individual user."  According to Siegle and Beck we should stop being driven by a fast return, catch-all mentality, and "first find out what works--even if what works doesn't seem scalable."

Finally, the authors are adamant that success will hinge on our ability to think holistically and to "incorporate non-technological agents purposefully into a given user's change process".  We will certainly be keeping tabs on future developments in slow change design for its profound value to work in Positive Computing.

Read the full article at Interactions
"Slow change interaction design" Siegel, Martin A.; Beck, Jordan (2014)

Interactions vol. 21 (1) p. 28-35

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Upcoming seminars on Positive Computing

I'll be hosting a number of Positive Computing seminars and workshops this April and May in the US, Canada and Australia.  Feel free to email me ( for venue/time information if you're interested and in the area.
  • Charles Perkins Centre - Sydney | 15 April
  • Microsoft Research - Seattle | 24 April
  • CHI 2014 - Toronto | 26 April
  • McGill University - Montreal, LEADS conference | 5 May
  • Stanford University - San Francisco | 8 May

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Positive Design

The International Journal of Design has just released a special issue on design for subjective wellbeing.

The issue was edited by Jodi Forlizzi from Carnegie Mellon and co-chairs Pieter Desmet and Anna Pohlmeyer of the Delft Institute of Positive Design.  The Institute's exciting work takes on design for wellbeing from within the context of industrial design.  See their projects and publications for more information.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Postdoc position for work in Positive Computing open at the University of Sydney

School of Electrical and Information Engineering
REFERENCE NO. 2579/1113
·    Develop software applications and systems to support mental health and psychological wellbeing.
·    Collaborative multi-disciplinary research project
·       Full-time fixed-term, remuneration package: $95K-$103K p.a. which includes leave loading and up to 17% super
The University of Sydney is Australia's first university and has an outstanding global reputation for academic and research excellence. It employs over 7300 permanent staff, supporting over 50,000 students.
The Software Engineering Group at the School of Electrical Engineering develops software applications to support mental health and psychological wellbeing. This position will be part of the Cybermate project team, which is a collaboration between the School of Electrical Engineering, the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) and the Inspire Foundation. The primary focus of your role is to develop Natural Language Processing (NLP) and other software tools for the project.
To qualify for this position, you must be able to demonstrate:

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Human-Automation Interaction/Autonomy Submissions Invited for 2014 Human Factors Prize

The Human Factors Prize welcomes research submissions between April 1 and June 2, 2014, on human factors/ergonomics (HF/E) research that pertains to effective and satisfying interaction between humans and automation.
The Prize confers a $10,000 cash prize, publication of the winning paper in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and presentation of the work at the HFES 2014 Annual Meeting in Chicago, October 27-31 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

CHI2014 Workshop - CFP

The CHI 2014 Workshop "Supporting Autonomy in Technology Design" is a unique opportunity to explore how we can design technologies to better support human autonomy.  Check out the Call for Participation for more details, dates and submission instructions.